Defending quinoa, continued.

This HuffPost piece seems to clear a lot of things up. The short story: Western demand has indeed sent prices sky high, but naturally to the benefit of Bolivian farmers, who are just struggling to boost production now within their technological framework. There’s ample room for progress to handle things, though, and no doubt things will be worked at in time. None of these costs plausibly outweigh the vast benefits.

Previous post here.

Are the environmentally conscious wasting their time?

My reading on climate change ethics is coming to an end, at least for the purposes of the essay I’ll have to write next week. There’s no way, however, that I’ll be forgetting everything I’ve learnt in a hurry. My Twitter feed has a healthy handful of accounts throwing green news in my direction on a daily basis now, and what I’ve read has affected me too strongly for it to conceivably be shelved. But just in case, one of the reasons for declaring my vegetarianism so loudly and publicly was to help ensure through a sense of shame that with time I don’t suffer a relapse.

There is one issue, however, that’s worth dwelling upon before this blog loses its recent monolithic focus. I began this phase of my studies by reading John Broome’s book on climate ethics, and his claims about the harm that each one of us causes were delivered so bluntly that I saw little reason to question them:

The private morality of climate change starts by recognizing that your own individual emissions of greenhouse gas do serious harm. You might at first think your own emissions have a negligible effect because they are so minute in comparison to emissions around the world. You would be wrong. If you live a normal life in a rich country, you cause many tonnes of carbon dioxide to be emitted each year. If you fly from New York to London and back, that single trip will emit more than a tonne. An average person from a rich country born in 1950 will emit around 800 tonnes in a lifetime. You can see the harmfulness of these amounts in various ways. The World Health Organization publishes estimates of the number of deaths and the amount of disease that will be caused by global warming. On the basis of the WHO’s figures, it can be estimated very roughly that your lifetime emissions will wipe out more than six months of healthy human life. Each year, your annual emissions destroy a few days of healthy life in total. These are serious harms.

And a recent Jim Nolt paper argued in a similar way:

We estimated above that the average American is responsible for about one two billionth of current and near-term emissions.Yet even if emissions are reduced to low levels fairly quickly—that is,even under the most optimistic of scenarios—billions of people may ultimately be harmed by them. If over the next millennium as few as four billion people (about 4%) are harmed (that is, suffer and/or die) as a result of current and near-term global emissions, then the average American causes through his/her greenhouse gas emissions the serious suffering and/or deaths of two future people.

It was on the basis of reasoning like this that I was operating when I concluded that I have a duty to lower my emissions. They cause harm, albeit via a convoluted process, and since I can prevent such harms without unreasonable sacrifices to myself, I should stop eating meat and so on. And this held true regardless of whether climate change in general continued because nobody else bothers to join me.

But a surprising amount of literature that I’ve read since then has been set on proving the opposite kind of conclusion. Namely, I have no obligation as an individual to stop driving a gas-guzzler for fun because my individual emissions make no difference. For instance, here’s Sinnott-Armstrong:

My act of driving does not even make climate change worse. Climate change would be just as bad if I did not drive. The reason is that climate change becomes worse only if more people (and animals) are hurt or if they are hurt worse. There is nothing bad about global warming or climate change in itself if no people (or animals) are harmed. But there is no individual person or animal who will be worse off if I drive than if I do not drive my gas-guzzler just for fun. Global warming and climate change occur on such a massive scale that my individual driving makes no difference to the welfare of anyone.

Now, this is an empirical claim, so it is not the type of fact a philosopher can establish. But what we can note is that Armstrong’s claims are consistent with Broome’s and Nolt’s, as things stand. Broome and Nolt calculate the ‘harm’ each individual ’causes’ by taking collective emissions data and splitting it up, ascribing to you an average personal part. And Armstrong’s point is that this is a fallacy. Just because I participate in a share of the emissions which in their totality cause harm doesn’t mean that my individual emissions cause harm, in the sense that whether or not I emit will determine neither the occurrence of a flood nor the intensity of a drought. Broome acknowledges this, but he doesn’t think it matters much:

Your emission increases the likelihood of a flood, but it might not actually cause any particular flood. So it is true that your particular emissions may do no harm in a single event. But during the centuries they are in the air they will have the chance of causing harm on innumerable occasions. It is extraordinarily unlikely that they will do no harm at all. There is no real uncertainty there.

This is an important point. I wanted to defend my green credentials on the grounds that the consequences of my emitting carbon are bad. At minimum, we must now say only that there is a high risk that their consequences are bad. But I think I can live with this. We should, after all, act on the basis of probabilities even if they fall short of certainties.

But it’s worth making some further final disconnected points here, which I think suffice to explain why we all as individuals certainly should go green, even if the thrust of Armstrong’s concerns about effectiveness are warranted. Sandberg notes that Otsuka suggests the following:

[T]he argument from inconsequentialism is paradoxical roughly in the same manner as the ancient Sorites paradox. If everyone who contributed to the threat of climate change were only emitting greenhouse gases in insignificant amounts, it would seem that no one is responsible for causing this threat on this view—since insignificant contributions are neglected.

Right, and this has been bugging me. The sceptics about the existence of individual duties here often seem to simultaneously claim that it is the case that we have a collective duty to reduce emissions, and that governments should make us do so. But I don’t see how it can be said that we should follow a government’s demands that we act greener if we have no individual duty to act greener, and our individual action of going greener has no substantive effect. The solution is surely to say that our individual acts do have substantive effects, just at the margin, and each adds up to constitute the looming catastrophe. Or maybe if I knew more about vagueness and the philosophy of language, I’d see why things get so messy here?

Johnson claims that:

One has an obligation in an impending [tragedy of the commons], and it is to “do the right thing” without waiting for others. “The right thing” is not, however, a fruitless, unilateral reduction in one’s use of the commons, but an attempt to promote an effective collective agreement that will coordinate reductions in commons use and therefore avert the aggregate harm.

Armstrong flirts with a similar view, and demonstrates the paradox I just discussed, when he writes:

We should not think that we can do enough simply by buying fuel-efficient cars, insulating our houses, and setting up a windmill to make our own electricity. That is all wonderful, but it neither does little or nothing to stop global warming, nor does this focus fulfill our real moral obligations, which are to get governments to do their job to prevent the disaster of excessive global warming. It is better to enjoy your Sunday driving while working to change the law so as to make it illegal for you to enjoy your Sunday driving.

Both of these quotes convey the thought that if we care about climate change, our acts should take on a civic component, and being socially and politically active in this way is important because it may actually be effective, unlike behaving greenly yourself.

I think this hits on a truth, but only part of one. I think it’s true that we should consider civic duties and acts here, but I believe that is best understood as being a crucial part of becoming greener. If Johnson and Armstrong are correct, we can effectively campaign for our governments to do things to tackle climate change whilst continuing to gut the earth’s resources and blindly pollute at the same time. Whilst this may be a philosophically coherent position to take given their arguments – because the point is that it’s only worth stopping if everybody agrees to – it’s hard to imagine any but the most hyperrational of minds being able to swallow the apparent hypocrisy and be persuaded by it. If we are concerned with de facto efficacy, is there any serious doubt that we can only hope to convince our fellow citizens and leaders of how seriously we take climate change if we ourselves demonstrate that we are doing something about it?

In that respect, becoming green is crucial to civic action. It does not exhaust the list of things one should do. I think, for instance, that talking about it with friends and family is also important, and I do believe I should badger people and become obnoxiously moralistic about it. And by blogging about it, I fulfil my civic duty insofar as hundreds of you have read these posts, and hopefully you are more conscious of the issues as a result. But actually becoming green as individuals remains essential to this process.

It’s worth noting that this hints at a reason why I may have been wrong to condemn Broome’s argument for carbon offsetting, though only because of reasons I failed to foresee. I argued that, yes, we should reduce our emissions, but paying to neutralise them is a bad idea because that money could be spent far more effectively elsewhere. But maybe the fact that ensuring one’s carbon footprint is neutral is a major sign of your commitment to the green cause gives one reason to do it even ahead of deworming school children – it has value because of what it expresses, and it increases the chances that something serious will be done about the moral issue of our time.

Three final points.

First, how awesome is this for a restaurant idea: I want to see a place open that slaps a carbon tax on every dish, especially those that are meat-based. So the cost of the externalities becomes incorporated into the price of your plate, and the restaurant then channels that extra money into carbon offsetting, ensuring its footprint is effectively zero. Again, the value of such expressions could be truly significant as part of a long-term cultural shift.

Second, some people have asked me to consider whether I’m being too dogmatic in assuming that meat markets are sufficiently sensitive to respond to the elimination of my demand. That is, if they are inelastic, is it not the case that the same amount of meat will be produced and the same emissions created whether I buy meat or not? The answer to that seems to be – yes, in the short term, no doubt nothing will change. But it stands to reason that if the chicken and bacon and steak I was eating on a weekly basis is no longer being called for in the supermarket, over time the effect will trickle through and be reflected in lowered production. Otherwise, we’d have to say that all that meat is just being binned, or someone else is increasing their demand simply in order to stupidly replace mine. There’s no reason I know of to think supply will not reflect demand over time.

Third, note how my argument for vegetarianism has been based solely on the likely harm my individual consumption will do, and now on the civic, expressive component that the commitment carries. I have not even touched upon the arguments from animal rights and the intense suffering inflicted by current production practices. These are also serious concerns, and I’m quite sure that if I gave them more due thought, my vegetarianism would end up being doubly justified and overdetermined.

And then we could further add in the vast health benefits of sacking off saturated fat in red meat. I will not be losing much sleep worrying that the decision I’ve made is the wrong one.

Managing without meat, continued.

I felt like a bird in Holland and Barrett yesterday when I walked out with what was basically a bag packed with grain. Green lentils and more quinoa to go along with pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds.

Breakfast was fine because I take poached eggs, but if I decide I should go vegan than I’ll struggle, because cereal both bores and often fails to fill me. Maybe toast with beans, spinach and mushrooms would do the trick – that’s the form that vegetarian breakfasts in cafés seem to take.

I munched on the seeds before lunch, anyway, and gladly the mild flavour quickly grew on me. These are, allegedly, full of vitamins and minerals, and at an average protein content on 25%, I really can’t complain.

For lunch I did this quinoa and fennel salad, pictured above. It was an Ottolenghi recipe once more, and despite looking great it tasted horrific. He’s certainly a fan of loud, mouth-shaking flavours, and the lime and dill here were too sharp for my stomach to handle.

His curry-roasted root vegetables recipe, however, never fails me. I just boiled some lentils in vegetable stock and sprinkled them over for some further protein. Dinner went swell:

I’ve prepared a mixed bean salad for tomorrow, and I think I’ll try roasted sweet potatoes with figs for dinner. And more seeds of course. Peck, peck.

Extinction through starvation.

Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich paint a bleak picture of what the future will most likely bring:

Our guess is that the most serious threat to global sustainability in the next few decades will be one on which there is widespread agreement: the growing difficulty of avoiding large-scale famines. As the 2013 World Economic Forum Report put it: “Global food and nutrition security is a major global concern as the world prepares to feed a growing population on a dwindling resource base, in an era of increased volatility and uncertainty.” Indeed, the report notes that more than “870 million people are now hungry, and more are at risk from climate events and price spikes.” Thus, measures to “improve food security have never been more urgently needed.”

They acknowledge various essential steps to solving the problem, including a large decline in meat consumption. But they see the key lying in reining in population rises. Empowering all women in the world with effective birth control rights is deemed crucial to this process.

This fits a comment Broome makes in his book about how China, believe it or not, is doing more than many nations to curb climate change and thereby prevent future suffering, just by sticking to its one-child policy.

And let’s just emphasise the fact that 870 million people in our world will go hungry today. We saw yesterday how 40 million tonnes of grain a year would be sufficient to make food poverty history. We currently produce 760 million tones – almost twenty times the amount necessary. The problem, of course, is that 97% of it goes straight into the mouths of animals in order to inefficiently make meat. Yes, I’m going to have no trouble staying far away from this morally bankrupt practice.

Carbon tax comes to China.

Largely symbolic, inevitably littered with loopholes and unlikely to do much good, of course. But as Plumer notes, it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s more than the US Congress is currently proposing. And we pretty much have to clutch at any glimmers of good news we get nowadays in this doomed, apathetic world.

Managing without meat, continued.

A friend writes:

[Y]ou might be sad now, but you won’t be for long. Going full-on vegetarian comes with countless bonuses. For example, learning more about what you eat, generally eating better, trying new and excellent foods, becoming a better cook, never having to look at a menu for more than ten seconds to figure out what you can eat, and most importantly inflicting a sense of smug superiority on any and all meat-eaters (that is why you’re becoming a vegetarian, right?). If you stick with vegetarianism, I think you’ll quickly become happy with it, and wish you’d started earlier.

Defending quinoa.

A primer on that strange grain that I mentioned last night:

Quinoa is the grain-like seed of a plant in the goosefoot family (other members include spinach, chard, and the wonderful edible weed lambs quarters), and its appeal is immense. Twenty years ago, NASA researchers sung its praises as potential astronaut chow, mainly for its superior nutrient density. No less an authority than the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization hails it as “the only plant food that contains all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins and contains no gluten.” The FAO is almost breathlessly enthusiastic about quinoa—it has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa and even runs a Facebook fan page for it.

Joanna Blythmann questions its ethical credentials:

The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

Mimi Bekhechi of PETA pushes back by contrasting these costs with the meat-eating alternative:

Vegans aren’t gobbling up all the soybeans – cattle are. A staggering 97% of the world’s soya crop is fed to livestock. It would take 40m tonnes of food to eliminate the most extreme cases of world hunger, yet nearly 20 times that amount of grain – a whopping 760m tonnes – is fed to farmed animals every year in order to produce meat. The world’s cattle alone consume enough food to sustain nine billion people, which is what the world’s human population is projected to be by 2050.

Because vegans eat plant foods directly, instead of indirectly eating bushels and bushels of grain and soya that have been funnelled through animals first, even vegans who sometimes eat exotic foods grown in other countries still make a fraction of the impact on the environment that meat eaters do (many of whom also eat exotic foods). Enough food for a vegan can be produced on just one-sixth of an acre of land, while it takes 3¼ acres of land to produce sufficient food for a meat eater. Vegfam, which funds sustainable plant food projects, estimates that a 10-acre farm can support 60 people by growing soybeans, 24 people by growing wheat or 10 people by growing maize – but only two by raising cattle.

(Photo: Parsley, lemon and cannellini bean salad, with quinoa. Created by Ottolenghi, executed by me.)

Yes, a carbon tax would work.

See British Columbia’s experiences as a case in point.

That Plumer piece also links to a semi-old Ezra post, which explains perfectly why conservatives should leap at the opportunity to back this. It’s an obvious double-win:

Martin Feldstein, who was the top economist in Ronald Reagan’s administration, proposed a carbon tax in the Wall Street Journal back in 1992. When the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, had to submit a deficit-reduction plan as part of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2011 Fiscal Summit Solutions Initiative, the four scholars in charge of the project included a $26-per-ton carbon tax in order “to address environmental concerns in a more market‐friendly manner.” Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist who advises Mitt Romney’s campaign team, has written that there is “broad consensus” among wonks for a global carbon tax.

Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican who lost a 2010 primary challenge, is crisscrossing the country trying to build support for the idea. “From a conservative perspective,” he told me, “this is a fabulous opportunity to reduce taxes on something you want more of, which is income, and to put a tax on something you want less of, which is harmful emissions.”

But Ezra called Norquist at the end, and he clarified that the GOP opposes it. Because a carbon tax would be a new tax, and all taxes are intrinsically unconservative and bad.

Capitalism as anti-conservative.

I meant to link to this yesterday. Do yourself a favour and go read Sullivan at his most reflective in a long while. His conclusion offers a good summary:

All I know is that it is a core conservative idea that revolutions can end in nightmares. But we conservatives also long supported and indeed recently breathed new life into the industrial and post-industrial revolution. We see the consequences far beyond the suicides of elderly Koreans. And in my bleaker moments, I wonder whether humankind will come to see this great capitalist leap forward as a huge error in human history – the moment we undid ourselves and our very environment, reaching untold material wealth as well as building societies in which loneliness, dislocation, displacement and radical insecurity cannot but increase. It seems to me this is not the moment for Randian purism.

Do we not as conservatives have a duty to tend to the world we helped make?

Yet in the midst of what Stephen Gardiner has rightly called the “perfect moral storm” (due to the literally deadly mixture of climate change’s undeniable severity, and our apparent inability to care), “conservative” politicians aren’t only silent. In America, they’re caught up in a wave of denial that causes them to actively oppose and openly mock environmental efforts as unnecessary job-destroyers. Senator Inhofe believes a passage in Genesis refutes all climate science. In contrast, conservatives in Britain may by and large accept that the phenomenon is real, but they’re not doing much more to deal with it, and they’re certainly not leading the efforts. The coalition is too caught up with short-term present-day economics to even turn its attention to the plight of future generations. How is the Conservative party’s symbol still a tree? When did Cameron last mention, nevermind make a serious speech about, climate change? This is an abject, unforgivable failure of leadership. A large part of politics is about electing people to counter our own biases and guide us towards the tough but brave and necessary decisions we ought to make. And yet we see no such foresight and wisdom. We only see the same short-sightedness we all suffer from in our daily lives.

And what’s worse is that the solutions aren’t beyond us. Externality theory in economics has been around for decades, and there’s a vast consensus, body of literature and empirical data on what legislative proposals would effectively curb carbon. Cap and trade would be a start, and a carbon tax probably even better. That’s our only hope of collective action to reverse our current tendency to deplete the earth’s resources and cause unparalleled pain, suffering and instability for humans well into the future.

But what happened when such a proposal reached the floor of the US Senate the other year? The “conservative” party blocked it.

Your diet is destroying the world, continued.

A friend writes:

I was wondering if you could talk me through the complete chain of ethical reasoning. I have seen a lot about how meat consumption is responsible for a large percentage of CO2 emissions. And so I guess if we have a responsibility to cut CO2 emissions we have a responsibility to cut meat consumption.

But what is the responsibility to cut CO2 emissions? Is it due to immediate harm caused by the additional CO2 in the atmosphere? (If so, forgive my ignorance, but what is the harm?) Or is it due to a responsibility to stop global warming, which will in turn cause harm to future generations through flooding, drought, and eventually cutting short the life span of the earth?

Also, surely the main problem is beef, so why not continue with white meat and fish?

Yep, it’s really this simple. As John Broome characteristically puts it in his book: “Emissions cause harm in two steps. First, emissions cause global warming. Second, global warming causes harm”. That’s all there is to it. This thesis doesn’t depend on any contentious claims which fetishise the atmosphere as intrinsically valuable as an end in itself. We only need to claim that insofar as the climate is a vehicle by which the well-being of future individuals is deeply determined, we have a responsibility to cut emissions. Remove the floods and droughts and thereby the suffering and deaths, and this wouldn’t be the moral crisis of our time that it so clearly is.

Now, some philosophers do doubt this. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, for instance, makes some metaphysical manoeuvres when reflecting upon causation and counterfactuals to help him conclude that no individual is responsible through her emissions for any harm in the world. In short, because the phenomenon will occur regardless of what we do, he thinks it’s futile to say we are ‘obliged’ to act differently in any meaningful, traditional sense. I plan to say something about this shortly – probably in my essay, which I will link to. But I have little doubt that Armstrong is deeply misguided. It is still the case that our actions as individuals cause harm at the margin, whatever other people do.

It’s true that beef is the main problem here, as I’ve previously noted. Even meat-eaters could do vast good in the world by only eliminating beef from their diet. But just because one thing is the main problem, that doesn’t mean other things aren’t also problems. And the impact of other livestock like chicken is still bad. So I don’t see how I can avoid concluding I need to cut it all.

I am less clear about fish, but once more, it’s certainly comparatively better. Perhaps someone reading can help me. Does anyone know the fact of the matter here? Does the fish industry in its entirety cause more carbon emissions than regular inevitable food-producing practices?

Managing without meat.

As I plan this change and figure out how to keep myself functioning, I think I’ll blog the key lessons I learn. With smart-phone apps nowadays, never mind the reservoir of information already available online, maintaining a balanced diet should be easy. It will be nice to offer personal proof, though, that it can be done; and that I won’t be physiologically deficient by virtue of being deprived of steak.

Your diet is destroying the world.

Regular readers of this blog will already know this fact. But the more I read, the more I grow convinced that the data I have cited on here has downplayed the problem. Most figures put meat consumption as contributing to about a fifth of global emissions. Try changing that figure to more like a half. Mark Bittman explains:

Five years ago, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization published a report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which maintained that 18 percent of greenhouse gases were attributable to the raising of animals for food. The number was startling.

A couple of years later, however, it was suggested that the number was too small. Two environmental specialists for the World Bank, Robert Goodland (the bank’s former lead environmental adviser) and Jeff Anhang, claimed, in an article in World Watch, that the number was more like 51 percent. It’s been suggested that that number is extreme, but the men stand by it, as Mr. Goodland wrote to me this week: “All that greenhouse gas isn’t emitted directly by animals.  ”But according to the most widely-used rules of counting greenhouse gases, indirect emissions should be counted when they are large and when something can be done to mitigate or reduce them.”

Robert Goodland himself illuminates his own findings:

The key difference between the 18 percent and 51 percent figures is that the latter accounts for how exponential growth in livestock production (now more than 60 billion land animals per year), accompanied by large scale deforestation and forest-burning, have caused a dramatic decline in the earth’s photosynthetic capacity, along with large and accelerating increases in volatilization of soil carbon…

[R]eplacing at least a quarter of today’s livestock products with better alternatives would both reduce emissions and allow forest to regenerate on a vast amount of land, which could then absorb excess atmospheric carbon to reduce it to a safe level. This may be the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change in the next five years as needed.

Elsewhere, Goodland makes similar points and adds:

[A]n astonishing 45% of all land on earth is now used for livestock and feed production. So we propose that, contrary to popular belief, the key to reversing climate change in the next five years — as needed — is actually the food industry.

More from Goodland here. But here’s Bittman again:

It’s seldom that such enormous problems have such simple solutions, but this is one that does. We can tackle climate change without inventing new cars or spending billions on mass transit or trillions on new forms of energy, though all of that is not only desirable but essential.

In the meantime, we can begin eating less meat tomorrow.

Reading all this, I don’t think there’s any way I can continue to hold this half-way house position which commits me to trimming meat consumption without eliminating it. I have consoled myself with self-deceiving weasel words about how I’m doing more than most, but there’s just no way anyone can become conscious of the consequences of their actions here and not feel compelled to stop eating chicken and beef and bacon. Through weakness of will, of course, we may slip back into these bad habits. But there’s simply no intellectual defence available here. Every time I buy meat, I send market signals which help to ensure we continue to fuck over future generations. And I’m supposed to justify this how? By insisting that the pleasure of tasting steak is more important than preventing the deaths of millions of people through floods? Please. Again, there’s no real moral dispute here. Everyone who knows the facts must know they should change. It’s just that being moral is hard, and when the consequences are as complex, convoluted and distant as they are with climate change, it’s easy to rationalise away one’s duties.

The lazy get-out is to invoke the necessity of protein, as if it isn’t perfectly possible to get it elsewhere. Yes, it takes effort and vast dietary reform. But learning to love lentils and discovering the delights of alternative foods like quinoa needn’t be difficult, and with care and attention the food can be equally rich in taste, if not richer. In that respect, Ottolenghi’s New Vegetarian blog archives are going to become my new best friend. Having to take the time to plan one’s diet and shop more at Holland and Barrett rather than the butcher’s is a small burden when put aside the stringency of the duty at hand here. And before any vegans jump in – yes, I need to look more into the status of dairy produce, and I need to firm up my understanding of the situation with fish. But, baby steps. In the mean time, no more meat. If you know me personally, you can hold me to that. And please do.

Why America must act first, continued.

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong reinforces the case (2005):

[D]espite these costs, the major governments throughout the world still morally ought to take some of these steps. The clearest moral obligation falls on the United States. The United States caused and continues to cause more of the problem than any other country. The United States can spend more resources on a solution without sacrificing basic necessities. This country has the scientific expertise to solve technical problems. Other countries follow its lead (sometimes!). So the United States has a special moral obligation to help mitigate and adapt to global warming.

Bangladesh’s burdens.

If you’re wondering why this country seems to get singled out and disproportionately mentioned in all the climate change literature I’ve been citing, I think this Dale Jamieson article may offer an explanation:

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been quoted as saying that climate change is ‘an act of aggression by the rich against the poor’. The data seems to bear him out. Most of the emitting is done by the rich countries of the North, but most of the climate-change related dying is done in the poor countries of the South (Patz et al. 2005). When we look at some countries in particular the case seems even stronger. A recent paper suggests that climate change will lead to a 1-m change in sea level by the end of the century (Grinsted et al. 2009). Such a sea level rise will flood one third of Bangladesh’s coastline, creating an additional 20 million environmental refugees. In addition, saline water will intrude even further inland, fouling water supplies and crops, and harming livestock. This will occur as cyclones and other natural disasters become more frequent and perhaps more intense. In order to begin to adapt to climate change by building embankments, cyclone shelters, roads and other infrastructure, it is estimated that four billion dollars would be required. Yet Bangladesh’s total national budget in 2007 was less than $10 billion. Bangladesh suffers in all these ways, yet its carbon dioxide emissions per capita are one twentieth of the global average. Several small island states, such as the Maldives, will lose even more. They will literally cease to exist as their landmass is swallowed by rising seas.

Why America must act first.

Whilst the footprint graphic I posted may seem to suggest that China is the chief culprit now facing the greatest obligation to act, there’s strong reason to think the ball remains firmly in America’s court. Some more staggering facts from Gardiner:

[T]he USA is responsible for 29% of global emissions since the onset of the industrial revolution (from 1850-2003), and the nations of the EU 26%; by contrast, China and India are responsible for 8% and 2% respectively. Second, theories based on moral equality support the consensus because the developed countries consume many more emissions per person than developing countries. For example, in 2005 average global emissions per capita were 1.23 metric tons of carbon. But the US average stood at 5.32 tons, the UK was at 2.47, China at 1.16, India at 0.35, and Bangladesh at 0.08 (Boden et al 2009). Third, theories that prioritize the interests of the least well-off endorse the consensus because the developing countries are much poorer than the developed countries. Internationally poverty and inequality remain profound. In 2007, average per capita income in 2007 in the United States and United Kingdom was above $45,000 per year; in China it was $2604, in India $976, and in Bangladesh $428 (United Nations 2009). Moreover, these averages conceal some of the worst problems. In 2005, more than 10% of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty, on less than $1 per day, unable to meet their basic needs.

Graph: Carbon dioxide emissions due to consumption in China, via Wikipedia.

The distribution of emissions.


Stephen Gardiner expresses the inequalities:

At the international level writers on justice often point out the sharp differences in national emissions levels.  For example, the USA and China each have total carbon emissions that are roughly four times those of India, and more than eighteen times those of Bangladesh.  Similarly, the average American’s emissions are roughly equal to those of nearly five Chinese, fifteen Indians, and sixty-six Bangladeshis.  Moreover, since, at the present time, such differences appear to be strongly correlated with economic prosperity, much is at stake in deciding how to distribute future emissions, at least in the near-term.

Further information from The Guardian’s Data Blog (2011):

• China emits more CO2 than the US and Canada put together – up by 171% since the year 2000
• The US has had declining CO2 for two years running, the last time the US had declining CO2 for 3 years running was in the 1980s
• The UK is down one place to tenth on the list, 8% on the year. The country is now behind Iran, South Korea, Japan and Germany

Graphic via Stanford Kay at Pacific Standard Magazine.

Green news.

Chuck Wilson reviews the new critically-acclaimed documentary, “Chasing Ice”:

[This is] director Jeff Orlowski‘s beautiful yet sobering documentary about the world’s rapidly melting ice caps. His guide is James Balog, a renowned nature photographer who has become obsessed with documenting the staggering speed with which the icebergs of GreenlandIceland, and Alaska are crumbling into the sea. Orlowski films as Balog and a small team of young scientists go on a mad mission to embed dozens of time-lapse cameras into the rock walls above various ice fields. Those cameras take one image every hour, and when Balog and his team, known as the “Extreme Ice Survey,” assemble the footage, they discover that glacier fields the size of Lower Manhattan are receding at an astonishing rate.

I’m going to try to catch this later in the week.

Elsewhere, over at the NYRB Ian Frazier reflects on Subhankar Banerjee’s new book, Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point:

Alaskan hunters must now go farther out in the sea to hunt because the ice is receding, and that puts them in more danger. The direct effects of pollution hit people and animals harder in the Arctic, too. Airborne pollutants emitted in the mid-regions of the planet swirl north (that’s why you can find lead from the forges of Rome in Greenland), collect in organisms, and continue up the food chain. In an excerpt Banerjee includes from a book called Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic, the environmental journalist Marla Cone writes, “The Inuit living in northern Greenland, near the North Pole, contain the highest concentrations of chemical contaminants found in humans anywhere on earth.”

This fact is key to John Broome’s argument that climate change is primarily a matter of justice, which explains why political philosophers have tended to dominate the debate. The distribution of emissions is deeply skewed towards us in the developed world. And as we gut the world by depleting its resources, the first people we screw over – and the people we screw over the most – are those that do nothing to contribute to this crisis.

Meanwhile, as the UN Environment Programme publishes a new study today, The Guardian reports that it will urge us to halve our meat consumption:

The quest for ever cheaper meat in the past few decades – most people even in rich countries ate significantly less meat one and two generations ago – has resulted in a massive expansion of intensively farmed livestock. This has diverted vast quantities of grain from human to animal consumption, requiring intensive use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides and, according to the UNEP report, “caused a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health”. The run-off from these chemicals is creating dead zones in the seas, causing toxic algal blooms and killing fish, while some are threatening bees, amphibians and sensitive ecosystems. The UN scientists said so as not to cause environmental harm, the move to meat in the developing world must be balanced with a reduction in the amount consumed in developed countries.

John Harris adds his two cents to the case for vegetarianism:

[O]ver the last decade or so, the case for vegetarianism has grown ever-more urgent, and unanswerable. A watershed came in 2008, when Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, highlighted the links between meat consumption and environmental crisis, and advised anyone listening to “give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there.” Now as then, the meat industry accounts for around a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is directly responsible for huge levels of deforestation. When it comes to wider arguments about sustainability, the arguments are just as stark. Sixteen years ago, a Cornell University study established that 800 million people could be fed with the grain used to fatten up US livestock; the majority of corn and soy grown in the world is now set aside for cattle, pigs and chickens.

And at Wonkblog, read Brad Plumer on which cities have most reason to fear rising sea levels.

If only gay sex caused global warming.

In one of his papers on the ethics of climate change, Stephen Gardiner points us to this gem of a quote from a 2006 LA Times Op-Ed by Daniel Gilbert:

[Global warming] doesn’t violate our moral sensibilities. It doesn’t cause our blood to boil (at least not figuratively) because it doesn’t force us to entertain thoughts that we find indecent, impious or repulsive. When people feel insulted or disgusted, they generally do something about it, such as whacking each other over the head, or voting. Moral emotions are the brain’s call to action.

Although all human societies have moral rules about food and sex, none has a moral rule about atmospheric chemistry. And so we are outraged about every breach of protocol except Kyoto. Yes, global warming is bad, but it doesn’t make us feel nauseated or angry or disgraced, and thus we don’t feel compelled to rail against it as we do against other momentous threats to our species, such as flag burning. The fact is that if climate change were caused by gay sex, or by the practice of eating kittens, millions of protesters would be massing in the streets.

Weak wills and causing people to care.

When I’ve told friends in recent weeks that I’m working on the ethics of climate change at the moment, a common reaction has been for them to confess that they don’t really care, before immediately acknowledging that that is probably bad. I felt and acted similarly for a long time. It is a boring issue, and I have no natural appetite for scientific literature on the effects of carbon and economic articles on externalities. But as is so often the case in the world, things that are really boring often really matter. We need to overcome our instincts.

There’s another sense in which this point is true, and its lesson is even more important. Not only is climate change intellectually dry. Morally, it is difficult to grasp its significance because the impact is so diffused and distant. There’s no doubt that if I handed you a gun and gave you the chance to kill someone now, knowingly depriving them of six months of healthy life which would unfold were you not to shoot – then you wouldn’t shoot. You’d deem shooting this person abhorrent.

And yet your carbon footprint, over your life time, does on the best estimates cause the terminating of six months of healthy life. The difference is only that you do not see it. It doesn’t feel intimately connected to us, so we easily deceive ourselves and rationalise our duties away. Again, we need to fight our instincts and start to care, as most people know deep down that they should.

The exact same issue arises when we deal with global poverty. As Singer famously argued, we wouldn’t hesitate to save a dying child at little cost to ourselves if we walked past him on the way to work one morning. But place him on the other side of the world and we suddenly feel no special duties, even though helping is just as easy. Donating is a click away, and it’s very hard to see why physical distance makes any moral difference.

I’ll take a slight risk and cite the discredited Jonah Lehrer here. The following facts are reported elsewhere too, for the skeptics:

Consider the work of Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon. He told undergraduates about a starving child named Rokia — she lived in a crumbling refugee camp in Africa. His students acted with impressive generosity. They saw her emaciated body and haunting brown eyes and they donated, on average, about $2.50 to Save the Children.

However, when a second group of students were provided with a list of statistics about starvation throughout Africa — like the fact that more than five million children are malnourished — the average donation was 50 percent lower.

At first glance, this makes no sense. We should give away more money when we are informed about the true scope of the problem, not less.

Why do we do this? The depressing statistics leave us cold, even when they are truly terrible. That’s because our emotions can’t comprehend suffering on such a massive scale. This is why we are riveted when one child falls down a well, but turn a blind eye to the millions of people who die every year for lack of clean water.

This explains why the new start-up charity, Watsi, which I criticised earlier this week, is becoming so successful. By offering anecdotes and including photos and encouraging charity for individual persons, it taps into our sentimentality. The narratives attract us, even though for the amount of money it takes to cure one person on that site of a disease, you could do far more good for far more people.

I don’t think correcting our biases here is too tricky. Can we not just use our imaginations? Yes, my donation of $300 to Deworm the World last week doesn’t sound heartwarming in the way sponsoring one child might. But I know that if I were able to follow my money, fly out to see the drugs it paid for and then observe their benefits, then I would see around six hundred children in school, able to focus without all too common intestinal infections, because of my decision. Six hundred children. Why can’t that thought motivate more people? Why can’t we employ similar thought experiments to get ourselves to care more about climate change?

But until we can, perhaps green movements have it all wrong. It’s sadly likely that we could only spur real behavioural change by finding and filming actual kids suffering from droughts. If that’s necessary, it should be done. But it would be far better if it wasn’t needed because we all woke up, and allowed the power of reflection to guide our choices.

Why economics needs ethics, continued.

Via Broome again, this time on how economists try to account for the value of life by assigning it a monetary value based on preferences expressed through markets:

The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence uses a money value between £20,000 and £30,000 for a “qualy” (a “quality-adjusted life-year,” which is not very different from a daly). In 2003, the US Office of Management and Budget recommended a money value of between $1 million and $10 million for a whole life…

[N]aturally, a poorer person will be willing to pay less than a richer person will [for a year of healthy life], because the poorer person has more urgent alternative uses for her money. In terms of money, then, a poorer person’s life is worth less than a richer person’s. This conclusion was incorporated into the 1995 IPCC report, and led the authors to assign a much lower value to Indian lives than to American ones. Not surprisingly, the result was a major row at the IPCC’s plenary session where the report was presented…

[I]n terms of life, money to a poorer person is worth more than money to a richer person. It does not follow that the actual value of a poor person’s life is less than the actual value of a rich person’s.

Previous post on this issue here.

[Update: BTW, if the US Office of Management and Budget thinks a life might be worth $10 million, it should note that with that amount of money, through effective charitable donations, it could save 181,000 years of healthy life, or 3.3 million years of healthy school attendance.]

Why economics needs ethics.

One of the points Broome has been keen to stress so far in the second half of his book on climate change is how narrow-minded economists can be about the limits of their work. Its use can only be wisely tapped into once it is informed and guided by underlying ethical principles.

He claims, for instance, that economists like to think their theories are not dependent upon value judgements, so they tend to assign value to things on the basis of the preferences of people which are implicit in market signals. This, they claim, is most neutral and democratic.

But this itself is a value judgement about how we should weigh up and decide upon the importance of different goods! Why take, for instance, the unreflective and likely selfish preferences of present people as sacrosanct when deciding upon energy policy? Is it right that the interests of future people are ignored just because current people do not care?

Broome quotes Stephen Marglin as an example of an economist demonstrating this sort of moral naivete:

I want the government’s [discount rate] to reflect only the preferences of present individuals. Whatever else democratic theory may or may not imply, I consider it axiomatic that a democratic government reflects only the preferences of the individuals who are presently members of the body politic.

And contrasts it with what I take to be the much richer position of Pigou:

There is wide agreement that the State should protect the interests of the future… against the effects of our irrational discounting and of our preference for ourselves over our descendants… It is the clear duty of Government, which is the trustee for unborn generations as well as for its present citizens, to watch over, and… defend, the exhaustible natural resources of the country from rash and reckless spoliation

Climate scepticism as treason.

One archived Krugman column that was original:

Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual? Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable … Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole — but the existential threat from climate change is all too real. Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

The ethics of carbon offsetting.

I’m half way through John Broome’s book, “Climate Matters”, and all his arguments about the implications of climate change for private morality have now been made. The second half of the book focuses on what governments, rather than individuals, should do about this phenomenon. I haven’t needed much time to reflect upon John’s conclusions. My supervision with him should prove interesting, because I find myself strongly opposed to his position already.

First, to map out that position. The book is predicated upon a general moral distinction between duties of goodness and duties of justice, which Broome takes to be a natural and plausible thought. Duties of goodness include the positive things we should do to improve the world, such as donating money to the poor and, indeed, diminishing the impact of climate change. Duties of justice, in contrast, are meant to apply to a stricter subset of our actions and concern the active and direct harm we do to discernible individuals. Broome claims that governments should be concerned with goodness – the job we assign them is promoting it. But as individuals, our actions should be regulated by justice. We have a duty to not harm individuals even when doing so may be better in goodness terms. For instance, we may not murder someone to save five lives.

Now, you may think that this gets us out of any personal duties to alleviate global warming. Since this appears to be a distant, indirect and large phenomenon, it looks like the type of thing governments should solve in the name of goodness, but it doesn’t look like a matter of justice. Broome denies this. Since our emissions are intentional and we know that they do harm to individuals, it doesn’t matter that the causal chain is complex. This is still a matter of justice, and justice requires that we do not harm individuals through our emissions.

So Broome’s conclusion is to say that as individuals, we should offset our carbon emissions so that the net effect is nil. This is required by justice. However, he denies that we should do anything about climate change as individuals in the name of goodness (for instance, by planting further trees to make our carbon footprint negative), since if we want to do good, it is far more effective to, for instance, deworm children, as I posted about earlier today. But since we should do what is just before we do what is good, we should offset our emissions first, and do good through charity afterwards. This is true, according to Broome, even if the money spent on offsetting carbon emissions could do more good by funding deworming.

And it is undoubtedly the case that deworming does do more good than carbon offsetting, as Broome concedes. According to figures he cites from the World Health Organisation, an individual’s emissions throughout their life time are likely to cause six months of healthy life for a human to be removed from the world. This is a significant harm in itself, and they quickly add up. It’s not to be taken lightly. But according to Broome’s figures, the average American causes 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year to be emitted. This increases global warming and harms individuals, so it is unjust. Offsetting these emissions would cost ‘a mere’ $300. Justice, Broome says, requires this. And yet $300 could buy 100 years of healthy school attendance for children. One year of offsetting buys a mere 2 days of healthy human life! (Assuming an individual’s total emissions that kill six months of human life are spread over eighty years). Broome accepts the former is far more good. But only the latter is required by justice, and justice trumps goodness, so saving the 2 days overrules saving the 100 years.

This is absurd, but fortunately, I think it’s easy to see how the problem arises. The problem was inevitable once this distinction between justice and goodness was made, and justice was prioritised. If Broome had instead taken the route that Hume and Mill took – of saying that the value of justice is to be understood in terms of the fact that it is a decent rule of thumb and guide to what is good – then he could say we should not bother with it when it demands ineffective action. If we say that what is good really matters, we don’t need to let the narrow and absolutist demands of justice constrain us in this way.

And if we do pursue this path, something else follows. Since there is never a plausible point on the horizon at which all the children needing to be dewormed will have received treatment, we should always as individuals spend money on deworming, since it achieves good outcomes more effectively. Offsetting our carbon emissions would on this view be a waste.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we thus can and should emit carbon carelessly. Since it still does harm, we should avoid doing so when this is possible. For instance, we can survive perfectly well on more vegetarian meals and reduce our meat consumption, thereby lowering emissions and doing less harm. We should do this. We just shouldn’t spend money on offsetting our emissions that are unavoidable, since there is so much potential for good elsewhere.

I am surprised by this conclusion. I expected my individual contribution to climate change to be greater, and so I expected that if I did offset my emissions, I’d be able to do far more good. But that’s simply not the case. Green movements with a monolithic focus on low footprints seem to be deeply misguided.

Green news.

A round-up of what I’ve been reading recently on all things environmental.

“Fish in the Global Balance” – NYTimes Editorial:

Fish can offer higher rates of protein conversion than farmed animals. A pound of food results in a pound of weight gain for some fish, whereas the ratios are much higher for farmed animals… But the risks are the same as those found in any form of concentrated agriculture. They include pollution, destruction of natural resources like mangroves, genetic adulteration and the possibility of infection. And the food that feeds the most important farmed fishes, like salmon, has to come from somewhere — from the sea itself, or from grain, which in turn means more demand in an increasingly grain-strapped world.

“Study: Vegetarians Have Much Healthier Hearts” - The Atlantic:

For “the largest study ever conducted in the UK comparing rates of heart disease between vegetarians and non-vegetarians,” researchers at the University of Oxford drew upon data from almost 45,000 participants in a long term study… The self-proclaimed vegetarians had a 32 percent reduced risk of both fatal and non-fatal heart disease, accompanied by lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels, as compared to non-vegetarians.

“Windfarms break energy record in Spain” – The Guardian:

The country delivered over six terawatt hours of electricity from wind farms during January… The surge in new capacity will be largely driven by new offshore wind farms coming online and will mean the country remains on track to meet its goal of generating around 40 per cent of its electricity form renewables by 2020, up from about 25 per cent currently.

“It’s Not Easy Being Green” – David Leonhardt, NYTimes:

White House officials have already signaled that Mr. Obama is likely to use a 2007 Supreme Court decision — which gave the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate greenhouse gases — to regulate existing power plants. In the first term, the E.P.A. relied on that decision to negotiate a steep increase in fuel-economy standards with automakers and to overhaul standards for newly constructed power plants. The rules for new power plants would effectively halt the construction of new coal plants.

Those rules relied mostly on mandates, like requiring automakers to have a certain average fuel efficiency across their entire fleet. And mandates can indeed reduce carbon emissions. In the second term, aides say Mr. Obama may also mandate that home appliances and office buildings produce fewer emissions.

“Can Congress ever agree on climate change? An interview with Henry Waxman” – Wonkblog:

[Waxman]:  In my view, Congress needs to act. The task force hasn’t taken any positions yet, but Sen. Whitehouse and I both believe that we ultimately need to put a price on carbon to drive technology and give full incentives for market forces to achieve a transition to a low-carbon economy. That would benefit the country not just by reducing greenhouse gases, but also making us the leader in a key economic area.In my view a price on carbon makes sense because without it we are essentially subsidizing oil and coal — those fuels are not paying the full cost of the external damages they cause to the environment and public health. A carbon price would put all of these things on a level playing field.

I’m a third through John Broome’s new book, “Climate Matters”. Some thoughts later on today.

The sin of air travel.

Just to re-emphasise a point related to yesterday’s reader comment:

Let’s say you reduce meat consumption by 2 meals/student/week (lunch and dinner), or 90ish meals over the course of a 3-year degree. And let’s say that the average meat meal is 225 g (8 oz), so that’s about 20 kg of meat in total. By your quoted numbers, that would be equivalent to a flight of 2000 km, roughly equivalent to a round trip from Oxford to Munich, Vienna or Prague—hope you’re not planning on going on any trips.

All this does, actually, is flag just how outrageously destructive air travel also is, as the NYT documented over the weekend:

For many people reading this, air travel is their most serious environmental sin. One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10.

So if you take five long flights a year, they may well account for three-quarters of the emissions you create.

Hence the importance of carbon-offsetting, which you can calculate the cost of for any flight here. It seems to add around ten percent to the price of a ticket. The philosopher John Broome has argued for its moral necessity in his new book.

In other news, those desperate for a morning dose of protein no longer need to worry about the effects of eating eggs rather than meat:

Researchers reviewed eight prospective studies including 263,938 subjects and pooled the data for analysis. They found no evidence that eating up to an egg a day increased the risk of heart disease or stroke. The results were the same for men and women and in all age ranges.

Meat Free Mondays, continued.

A reader comments:

I still don’t understand how someone with a medical condition would require an “exemption” from eating in hall? … Do you mean that there would be a small number of meat dishes available to those with a medical condition—in that case, who decides what medical conditions are valid? Slippery slope.

The valid medical conditions would be those people were imagining in which it was necessary for someone to eat meat every day, as testified to by a doctor. That doesn’t look slippery.

[I]f your goal is lowered CO2 emissions, wouldn’t an active education campaign—on more than just meat-issues—have a greater long-term and overall impact than preventing students from eating meat once per week?

‘Active education campaigns’ have been taking place for years now, and still far too few people care about the impact of their behaviour on the environment. Lowering meat consumption is a substantive step in the right direction. And why take this to be an either-or?

Let’s say you reduce meat consumption by 2 meals/student/week (lunch and dinner), or 90ish meals over the course of a 3-year degree. And let’s say that the average meat meal is 225 g (8 oz), so that’s about 20 kg of meat in total. By your quoted numbers, that would be equivalent to a flight of 2000 km, roughly equivalent to a round trip from Oxford to Munich, Vienna or Prague—hope you’re not planning on going on any trips.

The pain of enduring all of those crappy meals made meaningless by a single trip…Then once that student leaves Oxford, daily meat consumption returns because all the student learned was that the dining hall didn’t serve meat on Mondays.

It wouldn’t be made meaningless by a single trip, unless you’re only taking the trip because you sacrificed the meat. But that would be a little odd. This is like saying there’s no point in leaving the lawn sprinklers on for an hour less a day because next week you’re going to wash the car.

And the idea that Meat Free Mondays would evaporate over night once a new body of students arrived is deeply implausible. The idea is that these things become institutionalised and, yes, students hear why there is no meat in Hall on Mondays, rather than being clueless, asking no questions, assuming there is no reason and revoking the arrangement accordingly.

Where does college get its vegetables from? Hopefully they are not air-shipped, although they most likely are. Better not eat any out-of-season vegetables. Want green in the winter? Too bad for you. M&S flies their cheap green beans in from Africa; I can only imagine college might have a similar source.

If the environmental impact of these practices is as destructive as the production of meat, then of course they should also be subject to review and moderation. But you don’t have to fatten up green beans. And as far as I know they don’t give out methane.

What you want to do is change people’s ideas about consumption of all resources, not force them to consume less without knowing why. Encourage them to pick vegetarian options on days where that dish appeals to them. Highlight the impact of purchasing products with a lot of packaging, or leaving their laptops plugged in while not in use. Show them the cost savings of being energy efficient. Then they will look throughout their lives for ways to be efficient.

If you want to change something at the college level, there are many things that could be done. Convince college to have a less ridiculous recycling programme—did you know that the scouts won’t collect recycling from the kitchens in Margery Fry? Instead, the bulk of that recyclable aluminium and glass is going straight into the rubbish bins. Encourage the installation of modern energy-efficient fixtures and appliances—the rooms in Margery Fry are so poorly insulated that most students leave their heat on full blast during the day because the heating is turned off from 11PM to 7AM. There is so much room for improvement here.

None of this is inconsistent with a reasonable reduction in meat consumption.

So yes, the reason we’re all fucked is that we decided that people should be able to eat meat on Mondays. Global climate change is in part caused by having too many meat-eating mouths to feed—why don’t we have Abstinence Tuesdays while we’re at it? (I included that last bit because I figure this comment won’t pass your moderation, but prove me wrong that you have the courage to address dissenting opinions rather than calling anyone who disagrees with you a moron.)

I approve all comments with points to make. I only ignore those that are made anonymously with the sole intent of insulting.

And I often air dissent on this blog, whenever it comes along. For instance, here, here, herehere and here.

Previous Meat Free Monday posts here, here and here.

Meat Free Mondays, continued.

A friend shared an article on Facebook with the following facts about beef:

Pound for pound, beef production generates greenhouse gases that contribute more than 13 times as much to global warming as do the gases emitted from producing chicken. For potatoes, the multiplier is 57… Producing the annual beef diet of the average American emits as much greenhouse gas as a car driven more than 1,800 miles.

The reason for this has to do with the fact that cows emit methane, which has ‘roughly 23 times the global-warming potential of CO2′.

No more burgers from vans for me. And I hereby limit myself to one steak or roast dinner a month.

Someone else pointed out to me, however, that even Guinness isn’t vegetarian:

Guinness was the winner of this year’s Vegetarian Society Imperfect World Award, for its lack of vegetarian-friendly credentials – like many cask ales and stouts, it is fined with isinglass. Isinglass is a form of collagen, and hails from the swimbladders of fish.

That one would be a bridge too far for me. I’ll take comfort in the fact that it seems unlikely that extracting isinglass contributes much to the warming of the world.

Meat Free Mondays.

So after my college’s JCR miraculously passed a motion supporting Meat Free Mondays, only for it to then even survive the challenge of a referendum, the buck was passed to the MCR to decide upon a stance. Since Somerville would never go ahead with such a contentious proposal without support from both bodies, the MCR’s stance would effectively make or break the deal. The motion was defeated on Sunday, so meat will be offered in Hall every day for the foreseeable future. Not that we need worry, because it definitely doesn’t contribute much to climate change:

Depending on where and how it is produced, the FAO estimates that the livestock industry is responsible for between 13.5 and 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A more recent report, published by the Worldwatch Institute, estimated that it could be as much as 51 per cent. Some of the emissions are from the methane emitted by livestock. Methane is 23 times more powerful as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). Other emitted gases, such as nitrous oxide, come from the manure produced by ruminants and other animals such as poultry and pigs. Nitrous oxide has 298 times the global warming potential of CO2. Still more GHGs come from the fertilisers used to grow animal feed, and from processing, storage and transport of meat products as well as from the clearing of rainforest to make room for livestock. Beef is the most energy intensive of all the meats we eat. According to the environmental group Greenpeace, eating 1kg of beef (the average weekly intake of meats of all types in the UK is between 1kg and 1.6 kg) represents roughly the same greenhouse gas emissions as a flight of 100km per passenger.

Researchers at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, agree. In 2007 they found that producing 1kg of beef results in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the amount of CO2 emitted by the average car over a distance of 250 kilometres.

Reading this, you’d think that any reasonable person would understand that the motive here is not to be paternalistic and force a healthier diet upon people. Nor is Meat Free Mondays about a group of hipsters insisting upon animal rights (Mondays only would in that case be remarkably arbitrary). It’s about the environmental impact of current meat consumption levels, period.

And yet, the opposition largely consisted of people worrying about potential students with medical quirks such that they must eat meat on a daily basis, as if such extreme cases couldn’t warrant exemptions when and as they arose, but rather simply had to override all considerations of sustainability to the contrary. If it wasn’t that, the objection was that Meat Free Mondays would constitute some sort of Stalinist tyranny in which a contentious moral value is imposed upon free people, unreasonably coercing them. Yes, because all students would be dragged in chains to the dining hall and forced to eat vegetarian food. It’s not like any alternative kitchen facilities are provided in college for those so desperate to dodge their duties.

And that raises another point here: even if this was coercive, that doesn’t demonstrate that it’s wrong. Coercion is easily justified when done in the name of a good cause. Nobody other than the most absurd of anarchists objects that the government threatening thieves with imprisonment violates their right to liberty. And similarly, when the environmental interest here is this strong, it’s clear that there are overriding reasons which make concerns about liberty irrelevant. Nobody has the right to eat meat whenever they wish, because that right would have to be encompassed, by entailment, under the apparent right to act in an environmentally destructive manner. And if you insist that such a right does exist, invoking them as valid moral claims quickly starts to lose its value.

If exceptionally intelligent Oxford students aren’t able to see and act on this, preferring to rationalise their desire to selfishly continue consuming the amount of meat that they currently do, there’s a good chance we should declare the world Fucked right now.